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It’s not unusual for participants at a gold mining camp on the Bering Sea to wake up to 30-degree temperatures— even during the summer. So, with temperatures in the low 70s, Tom Gatz ventured out in only his shorts and boots to visit fellow camper and amateur prospector, Ken Harrison, on the beach. But as Tom approached on his four-wheeler, he suddenly felt a little off, and before he knew it, “the lights went out.”

Quick response and a team effort

Tom was on the beach, the four-wheeler on top of him, when Ken approached. He removed the four-wheeler and called to another camper to get help from the camp medical clinic. Volunteer Ron McKee and his wife, Carol Wolfe, grabbed a portable ZOLL® AED Plus® automated external defibrillator (AED) and jumped into action.

The AED, along with other medical equipment at the clinic, had been procured by the camp organizers at Carol’s request. “We had it there for quite a few years. We were hoping we’d never have to use it, but we were prepared to use it,” Ron said.

When Ron, a retired emergency room physician, and Carol, a retired nurse with expertise in cardiac care, arrived on the scene, Tom didn’t have a pulse. He was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Ron began CPR and Carol hooked Tom up to the AED machine. The AED administered a shock, and sand flew everywhere. After that one shock, Tom’s heart began beating.

“We were hoping we’d never have to use [the AED], but we were prepared to use it.”

-Ron McKee, Gold mine medical volunteer

“If it wasn’t for ZOLL, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” says Tom, who had used ZOLL defibrillators himself during his work as an EMS/fire volunteer. ZOLL AEDs are designed to meet the needs of a variety of rescuers, from EMS professionals to lay people.

Having resuscitated Tom, Ron and Carol transported him to the camp clinic, which was equipped with supplies to “do everything in the first hour that an emergency room could do,” says Ron. From there, Tom was flown to a hospital in Anchorage. Despite being in such a remote location, within four hours of lying on the beach without a pulse, Tom was in the cath lab having two stents placed in the left side of his heart. He went home a week later.

Thanks to the efforts of many rescuers who sprang into action, Tom was able to return to the mining camp the following year. Tom considers his team of rescuers his guardian angels. He says, “Not only that, but I told the doc, ‘You guys gave me new life.’”